Article | March 2018

Relapse and Recovery

Falling back into drug or alcohol use doesn't mean you can't recover

A relapse happens when a chemically dependent person returns to drinking or drugs after being sober. Many people suffer one or more relapses. This interrupts their recovery. Some never recover, but others learn from the relapse and work harder to stay sober. Relapses often come with warning signs. The person might start to act more like her old self for weeks, months, or even years. Staying sober requires new attitudes and behaviors. If these slip and old attitudes creep back, a relapse can happen.

If you know what to look for, you can prevent a relapse. And if a relapse does happen, you can get back to sobriety. Let's find out how to spot the signs of a relapse.

Know the warning signs

Make a mental list, and then avoid these triggers:

  • Relapses tend to happen during stressful times. They can also happen when you're in a situation that brings back old habits and attitudes.
  • Certain times are especially dangerous. Holidays, special occasions, and unexpected successes can be risky.
  • You're more likely to relapse about three months, one year, and five years after becoming sober. Make a point of getting extra support during these times.
  • People, places, or events may also contribute to a relapse. Which people don’t support your sobriety? What places and events make you think of drinking or taking drugs?

Here are some other warning signs of a relapse:

  • Depression
  • Loneliness or preferring to be alone
  • Cockiness about recovery or drug use
  • Feeling unappreciated for your recovery efforts
  • Anxiety or nervousness
  • Anger or argumentativeness
  • Impatience or frustration
  • Unrealistic desires
  • Self-pity
  • Dishonesty
  • Exhaustion
  • Struggling to think clearly
  • Nightmares or insomnia
  • Clinging to a social life or friends that don’t support sobriety
  • Use of a mood-altering chemical
  • Neglecting your recovery program
  • Neglecting prayer, meditation or other spiritual practice
  • Expecting others to change their habits
  • Forgetting to notice good changes or successes
  • Believing that you have all the answers
  • Believing that relapse can’t happen to you

Prevention and coping

You must be on constant alert in order to prevent a relapse. You'll need to watch out for warning signs and avoid risky situations. You'll also need to practice habits and attitudes that strengthen your sobriety. Your best bet is to participate in a recovery program like Alcoholics Anonymous® or Narcotics Anonymous®. If you got treatment at a center, you may also have access to aftercare programs. Your Employee Assistance Program can refer you to these and other options.

You can also commit to weekly self-checks. Enlist a trusted friend to help you check yourself each week for danger signs. Use the list above for help. If you believe you’re at risk, ask for extra help from your recovery program. Remember, sobriety should be your first priority in life.

What if I already relapsed?

Relapses happen. The key is to get back on track. Find a recovery program that works for you, and stick with it. You may be ashamed to admit that you had a relapse. Remind yourself that many others have been there before you. Talking to people who've been through relapse and recovery can help.

Relapse isn't the end of the world. It’s just one of the challenges of recovering from dependency.

Cigna Can Help

If you have EAP coverage through Cigna, we are available by phone at (877) 622-4327 any time to help you understand what services are available to support you during this time.

Woman sofa petting dog and using cell phone

This material is provided by Cigna for informational/educational purposes only. It is not medical/clinical advice. Only a health care provider can make a diagnosis or recommend a treatment plan. For more information about your behavioral health benefits, you can call the member services or behavioral health telephone number listed on your health care ID card.